Image supplied.

Sha Sha in studio.

In Conversation with Sha Sha: 'I'm one to let the work talk for itself.'

Sha Sha, the queen of amapiano, talks about winning a BET award, her upcoming album and documenting her journey from Zimbabwe to South Africa.

South African-Zimbabwean artist Sha Sha is the queen of amapiano and with good reason. She burst onto the South African scene a few years back with a string of successful singles with the likes of Samthing Soweto, DJ Maphorisa and Kabza de Small that received a ton of airtime on radio—endearing her to many. Towards the end of 2019, she went on to release her debut Blossom EP and immediately proved that she's an artist who is set to make waves for a long time.

Last year, the emerging artist received a nod from the BET and was awarded "Viewer's Choice: Best New International Act" beating out Nigerian artist, Rema, who was nominated in the same category. According to Sha Sha, her win has since opened many doors and gotten her into contact with a number of music heavyweights who are looking to collaborate.

More recently, the artist has been wrapping up her upcoming album. And while she's remaining pretty tight-lipped about the specifics of the project, she assures us that it will diversify her fans' amapiano palate just a little. Additionally, she's currently working on a documentary which will tell the story of how she came to catch her big break in South Africa, the people who helped her along the way and navigating a dual heritage as an artist.

And so we caught up with Sha Sha to discuss her upcoming album, a number of the projects she's been involved in as well as navigating life and music during an ongoing pandemic.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

It's been close to a year since you last sat down with OkayAfrica. What has changed for you during that time?

I'm trying to maintain my relationships because it's so easy to get lost in all of the work, work, work. It's good to have a great work ethic, but the people who keep you grounded and remind you where you're from, are your family. So I try to make a little bit more time for them, regardless of the fact that I'm busy. Definitely, me winning the BET, it was definitely a shift. So now, I'm basically now trying to...transcend.

And on that note, with regards to your BET win, were you surprised by that? What did it mean to you and for you as an upcoming artist to be honoured in that way?

I wasn't expecting that. The fact that I even got nominated to me was just like, "Oh, my word, this is crazy." And I was like, "Ah, thank you God for the nomination, amen." I had no idea I was going to win it, and winning it just was just like, "Wow." So I definitely didn't expect it. It's definitely done the most for me right now because it's opened the world for me and so many doors. So many people want to work with me and a lot more people have heard my voice. It's really exciting, to be honest.

How have you been navigating your career in light of the pandemic? What has been the same and what has changed for you?

Definitely our performances because that's our livelihood. The stage is my favourite place and I was bummed about it but you are forced to think outside of the box. And thank goodness for these platforms that we have; the Instagrams and Twitters and all these things. Living in this digital age, we're able to still connect with our fans through our socials and still maneuver through this time. We've been literally saved by this. I mean, we keep pushing. You just have to.

"The stage is my favourite place..."

You are currently working on your debut album. At what stage is that right now and can you give any details?

I like working under the radar. I like people knowing that, yes, I am working on an album and lots more. I'm working on an album and a documentary, but I think what I can give you for my album really, is to just expect to be surprised. Expect to be surprised because people know me for amapiano. I am the amapiano queen. But I want to surprise people here again.

Sha Sha - OkaySha Sha in studio.Image supplied.

Sha Sha - Okay

Without divulging specifics of the album itself, how would you describe the creative process behind producing a project like that?

Oh man. Personally, with the pandemic, obviously you're trying to deal with your own life, your own personal problems and all these things happening all around you, the shifts, all of it. That definitely inspired me to do this project, really. To be honest, it's mixed emotions. There's everything; there's happiness, there's sadness, there are good days and bad days. But I wanted to work with people who would relate to what I was going through and understand what I wanted to create on this album.

Again, I don't want to say who I am going to work with but honestly, it was really a spiritual journey for this album. And it's a whole lot of, spiritually, being aware of who I am and loving myself unapologetically.

"...It was really a spiritual journey for this album."

What would you say has been a really valuable lesson that you have taken from the collaborations on your album? Something that perhaps even shifted your perspective as an artist.

There are so many lessons. I'm just trying to put it into one whole thing but it's not even just about the album and working on it. It's about the mere fact that you woke up today and you are alive and able to interact with these people and dance and eat and feel the sun on your skin and all that. That was my overall lesson for 2020 but that kind of carried through into my album. I don't know if that makes sense.

Absolutely. Are you working on any other projects outside of music that you can talk about?

Well, recently, I worked on Coming 2 America. That was super exciting for me. There was also this amazing feature I did with Killer Tunes, Walshy Fire and Like Mike. These, again, are opportunities that came from the BET award. There are more people right now that are in my DMs actually wanting to work internationally and some from Nigeria. It's crazy how there's quite a lot. I'm one to work in silence and let the work talk for itself. That's really who I am. But with the documentary, it's really along the same lines as my album. I'll be touching on my journey back home and from Zimbabwe to South Africa and all the amazing stories and people that helped me through this journey. That's what I can say about the documentary right now.

Sha Sha in studio. Image supplied.

Sha Sha -

You're a South African-Zimbabwean artist and we're talking about how part of the documentary is going to be about how you came from Zimbabwe to South Africa. Unfortunately, South Africa is very often accused of being an Afro-phobic or xenophobic country. Has that been your personal experience?

Absolutely nothing. It's very unfortunate that it's something that's present. It's real. It happens here in South Africa, but I haven't encountered that. And thing is, with me growing up, I used to travel back and forth. I used to come and stay with my mom here in South Africa. So I would travel back and forth and that's how I really got the hang of the languages and the vibe and the people and all of that. For me, I've never had to experience [xenophobia]. I've never had to see it, really. And my heart really goes out to people who have experienced these situations.

You're working on a number of exciting projects and we'll talk about that a lot more once you've made them available to the public. However, what would you say is your mission for this year?

For people to get to know me. That's number one. I would love to have people know me because I'm very shy. I'm very in my little bubble. I'm an introvert so I just want to live a little. Share a little bit more in my life and open up a little bit more. That's something I want to do this year. And I mean, personally, I'm Christian. I would definitely want to have my spirituality in a better place too. And just good mental health and to keep pushing and working. But, overall, I really want people to get to know me.


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Photo courtesy Rukky Ladoja.

Rukky Ladoja on Building a Socially Responsible Nigerian Fashion Brand

The Nigerian designer behind Dye Lab has established a popular design brand based on the principle of little to no waste.

Rukky Ladoja is having what she describes as a typical Monday. She’s been called into her workshop for an emergency because her suppliers brought in the wrong materials. Rather than panic and wonder what to do, she immediately starts figuring out how to use the materials she’s been given in new pieces. ‘‘One thing I am big on is no waste,’ she tells OkayAfrica, when she shares the kind of day-to-day issues that come up for her as the designer behind Dye Lab. Ladoja founded the design brand during the COVID-19 pandemic and, guided by a zero-waste policy, it’s now become one of the most popular fashion brands in Nigeria today.

While Dye Lab has been branded a sustainable brand by many, Ladoja notes she is more comfortable calling herself “socially responsible,” as she didn’t set out to create a sustainable brand; she wanted to create a practical one. A brand that, instead of sourcing materials from international markets or using practices foreign to her environment, adapts local resources, styles, and skills across the entire design process. The result is practical kimono pieces that require little to no adjustment per customer, created in a way that ensures every part of the design process takes advantage of the resources — human and physical — around her with very little to no waste allowed.

The response to this? Phenomenal. Today, Dye Lab is fast turning into a household name in Lagos where it has inspired several copycats as the brand has turned into one of the best sellers of Industrie Africa — an e-commerce website with a focus on African designers. Days before Ladoja and I talk, Dye Lab had just finished a six-week pop-up store at the Anya Hindmarch store in the United Kingdom, and their year is just getting started.

An image of the designer sitting on a chair that\u2019s placed on a checkered floor and there\u2019s a vibrant art piece behind her.Designer Rukky Ladoja is all about running a socially responsible fashion brand.Photo courtesy Stephen Tayo.

‘‘The response has been great,” says Ladoja. “It's been an onslaught of demand, from clients, from friends, from international orders.” The brand recently started stocking on Industrie Africa, and Ladoja was told to expect 10 to 12 orders a month — that's kind of what their highest sellers get. “They just sent us a report that we had gotten over 60 orders in a month,” she says. “It's always like a surprise, every time we get those numbers.” It’s the same feeling she gets when a brand like Anya Hindmarch approaches the label. “Before they approached us, we had been talking about what kind of brands we wanted to emulate globally and they were put at the top of that list. And so to get a call saying, ‘Hey, I would love to collaborate,’ it was sort of surreal to us.’’

From a young age, Ladoja has always been interested in fashion, design, and the process of design in particular. ‘‘I was more interested in putting things together, not necessarily the style element of it, but the construction, the process of it.’’ Her favorite designers — the likes of Miuccia Prada, Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano, and Alexander McQueen — are all designers who focus on intelligent fashion, and the purpose behind every design choice they make. These influences are what interested Ladoja in fashion when she was in university.

She started a brand in the late 2000s, observing how many of her peers shopped, noting that at the time, online shopping wasn’t as readily available as it is today and that many Nigerians didn’t trust the few online stores that did exist mostly. For many, shopping meant sellers had to come into their places of work or buyers had to rush to stores after work. ‘‘I recognised how people were shopping,’’ Ladoja says. ‘‘And it was always someone bringing a suitcase into the office and everyone going through it, or running down to the market to see what they could buy.” It made Ladoja think: people should be able to shop in nicer environments than this. That was the start of Grey Projects, a high-end retail brand in the vein of Zara that stocked ready-to-wear fashion pieces created with Africans in mind.

But in 2019, a decade after launching the brand, Ladoja had to shut down Grey Projects. Sourcing supplies in Nigeria was difficult and even when she would get the supplies, finished products would often sit in warehouses, going to waste. She learned that working with local tailors to recreate her designs, which were often foreign to them, was a Herculean task that only led to more surplus items. Closing the business left her not wanting to be involved in fashion ever again. ‘‘I just felt like I had just been scarred too much,” she says, “and there was too much trauma there.’’

Instead, Ladoja turned her focus to consulting, working behind the scenes for brands like Lagos Fashion Week. Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened and the world stopped for a second; as did Ladoja’s consulting work. She needed to find another source of income. ‘‘The resources I had were my tailors, access to fabric, fabric markets, and suppliers,’ she says.’

Yet Ladoja was resistant to the idea of launching a brand. Instead, she searched for a retailer to house and sell what she had created, agbada kaftans that took inspiration from traditional Yoruba styles and dyeing processes. ‘‘Unfortunately, at that point, none of the retailers wanted to buy it, which was a shame,’ she says. Ladoja then took to teasing the product herself, wearing it on Zoom meetings and around friends, who started saying, ‘Oh, I want to buy it.’

The interest grew organically, so much so that Dye Lab soon had a strong enough customer base and a distinct enough style for Ladoja to launch the brand. Armed with the lessons from Grey Projects, she took the leap. This time around, Ladoja sought to do everything differently. She rearranged the structure of her brand, and focused on making sure everything in the production process was accessible and easy. ‘‘I broke down everything that I didn't like about Grey [Projects], and used that to create Dye Lab,” she says. “The garments we made with Grey were my designs, but they were very complicated for my tailors. So I decided 'm not going to do that. I'm going to create styles and use styles that are familiar to my tailors. That way everybody can feel comfortable.’’

Taking the lessons learnt from Grey Projects to Dye Lab seeped into every part of Ladoja’s new brand, right down to the approach to fashion week. For the 2022 Lagos Fashion Week, where other brands were showcasing their designs on the runway, Dye Lab chose to invite select guests and press for a special exhibition where they got to see the garment-making process of the brand, educating them on the history of the fabric, techniques and the people behind it all. ‘‘With Grey Projects, I was importing Westernized ideas of fashion into a space that just did not connect with,’’ Ladoja says. ‘‘With Dye Lab, I said, let me go back; let me work with what is here; let me respond to what the people around me want, what works.’’

Now, Ladoja is focusing on expanding the world of Dye Lab. She reminds me that Dye Lab is first a ‘design brand’ and not just a fashion brand, which means there are limitless options when it comes to expanding. “I'm quite impatient to innovate and do more, or bring out all the ideas in my head,” says Ladoja. “However, just the garment production has taken such a toll, especially as we are trying to keep up with the demand.” Ladoja’s vision is to take the ideology and the conceptualization process from fashion to lifestyle products, furniture, stationery and everyday objects.

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